Near Santa Fe
We will be in Santa Fe this November. I've searched Chowhound for restaurants in Santa Fe and found a number that would be good choices for us: The Shed, Old House.
But, I'm not finding much more that are not quite expensive. We love food and eating out and have wide-ranging tastes, and wonder if there aren't some interesting places near Santa Fe that we should try that will not break the bank.
I'd actually argue that Santa Fe's high-end dining is pretty overrated, and it's the mid-range stuff where the city really shines.
Do a board search on any of these, you'll find a lot more info, and if you have specific questions or cravings, just say so and we can probably point you in the right direction:
Santa Fe Bite (relocated downtown incarnation of Bobcat Bite, home of one of the best burgers in the universe)
Plaza Cafe Southside (New Mex and American, outstanding)
Jalapenos (Queretaran regional Mexican)
Ranch House (midscale BBQ and American)
Tune-up Cafe (Salvadoran and New Mex)
Jambo Cafe (Carribean and African)
2nd Street Brewery (excellent pub fare)
Harry's Roadhouse (American, New Mex, and more)
Vinaigrette (a "salad bistro" with lots of homegrown greens and veggies)
Iconik Coffee (hipster 3rd wave coffeehouse with a very short menu of excellent kitchen fare)
Counter Culture (another coffeehouse with remarkably tasty food, including New Mex, American, and East Asian stuff)
Pizza Centro (top-notch NY-style pizza, best topped with green chile, NM's signature ingredient)
La Boca - outstanding. I've spent some time in Spain and the tapas here trump a substantial portion of what I remember from there, with a particularly fun selection of sherries by the glass. Very cramped and always crowded, so be sure to make reservations. Also NB it's fairly expensive, although I'd argue it's well worth it given the high quality ingredients and craftsmanship.
The Shed - the quality is variable, especially when they're really busy, but when it's good it may well be the best New Mexican food in the city. Their margaritas are phenomenal, both potent and delicious.
Old House - I'm irrationally biased against hotel restaurants, but I've never been particularly wowed.
You might also check out Shohko Cafe (prices comparable to La Boca); I think their sushi is on par with most of what I've had on the coasts, and they have an excellent sake list, as well as a few fun NM-inspired dishes like shrimp-stuffed green chile tempura. But the main draw is the straight-ahead real deal sushi.
Thanks, finiero. We were in Spain (and Portugal) last year. I posted a long description of our favorite restaurants on that Board. We LOVED Portugal; less so Spain. One of the challenges was that we could never get tapas! We were only in Cordoba -- maybe that was it. So the tapas at La Boca really appeals to us.
And I will look at Shohko Cafe -- we eat sushi and this sounds like a nice contrast to other foods.
+1 on all of finlero's suggestion. A really great list. I'd only add La Choza, and would probably pick that over The Shed (same owners).
If you like very dark chocolate, I think Kakawa is also worth a visit. The chocolate is expensive (though not compared to similar places in other cities) and the staff can be flakey, but the owner is committed to old-school chocolate making, never adding dairy or alkali, and you can really taste the pure cacao in their products. He also makes very interesting chocolate elixirs (sort of like tiny intense cups of cocoa), many of which are based on old Mesoamerican recipes. They give out free samples of those on request, so be sure to ask.
finlero has some wonderful suggestions already.
I would add only a few:
Atrisco Cafe - for lamb with red chile
Casa Chimayo - awesome red chile posole
Alicia's tortilleria - corn tortillas to eat like snack food. Ok, they also have tamales and to-go food items.... :-)
Hope you have a wonderful trip!
Definitely make the short, five minute drive outside the city, near the SF Opera, and check out Tesuque Village Market. Some of the better NM food I've had here, and they use nearly all local and sustainably raised ingredients. Their heuvos rancheros are the best I've had in SF. I also thought Cafe Pasqual's was quite good. I frequently feel like "NM food" is just an excuse for "let's make something of really bad quality and then dump a giant soup of green chilli on top and people will eat it because we call it, "new mexican food." I think many of the place normally cited for good NM food--La Choza, Tomasita's, Tecolote Cafe--are like this. Cafe Pasqual's, in my opinion, represents how delicious NM food can be if prepared with actual care and decent quality ingredients.
If you want to check out something related to NM, but not exactly traditional, go to Dr. Field Goods on Cerillos Rd--amazing French-trained chef who puts an NM spin on his dishes. Reasonably priced.
Second on Jambo, Counter Culture, and Tune-Up--all excellent. food. 2nd street has good beer and a great vibe, but the food is mediocre at best.
La Boca and Taberna La Boca are both incredible.
It has been two months or so since I've been there. However, if by prepared foods you're referring to the pre-made burritos and such found in their cases to go, I've never eaten those and therefore can't comment. I've only ever ordered from their regular restaurant menu, and I've never been disappointed with what I received.
Obviously this is an opinion site and we're all entitled to our opinions, but I'd argue this take on NM food is a little unfair. Absolutely no disrespect intended, but a bit of counterpoint:
* It took me several years living in NM to have an "aha moment" that different NM restaurants have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to specific dishes. Once place might kick butt with its carne adovada burrito with red, but its chiles rellenos in green might suck. So while there's a lot of healthy debate on CH and elsewhere about "best NM food", that's kind of a huge oversimplification.
* I'll personally disagree with your assertion that most NM food is just code for "let's make something of really bad quality and then dump a giant soup of green chilli on top". There's plenty of bad NM cooking out there, but I've had plenty of amazing cooking that is enhanced, not masked, by the red or green. Complicating this is that even some of the best, notably La Choza, doesn't always have very good quality control, and if you get them on a Hyde day instead of a Jeckyll day, it might not be so good.
* Although I like Pasqual's well enough, I'd argue it isn't really New Mexican food insomuch as tourist food with NM accents. It's often delicious, as well as remarkably inventive, but to me the handful of NM ingredients they use does not a NM restaurant make. And hey, that's totally fine -- there are people who simply don't like NM food. A few years ago I was in Puerto Rico and I kept asking where I could find things that weren't bland and deep fried -- the locals were like, "at the tourist places, the deep fried stuff is the real PR food!"
Anyway, just my $0.02. Again, no disrespect intended.
What then, in your view, does make a NM restaurant? What makes it stand out? I ask only because I've been asking people ever since I came here what makes NM food--what makes it unique or different from other cuisines--and the only answer I've ever really gotten is precisely that--a handful of ingredients. That is, the green chilli, the fact that it typically uses pinto beans instead of black, which is more typical of mexican, the chicos, things like that. If it isn't that that makes an NM restaurant, what does?
Also, what places do you think do a good job other than La Choza (and also, evidently, what dishes at those places should I try)? I agree that much of what's on the menu at Pasqual's isn't NM food--it ranges from French to meso-american--but when I HAVE had an NM dish there it has typically represented the best version I've had of that particular dish. For example, the red chilli tamale I had there was the best tamale I've ever eaten.
I don't think its the case that I don't like NM food--I've had much that I do like, such as the huevos I mentioned at Tesuque Market, the posole and tamales at El Parasol, and some others. I just feel like much of what's on offer could be so much better; primarily through the use of better quality ingredients, but also through infusing more complexity and subtlety into their flavors. That's what I felt like Pasqual's did, and why I liked it. More specifically as well, I feel like the places that are "known" for their NM food--the places where that's the thing they do, such as La Choza, Tomasitas, etc--often offer the worst examples of the genre, whereas more out of the way places--such as Tesuque--do a far better job.
Anyhow, your thoughts would be appreciated.
Mdzehnder, I think I'm with you in that I often prefer the "elevated", fresher and more modern New Mexican dishes at places like Cafe Pasqual's to classic New Mexican fare, but I agree with finlero that the food in those places is not the real deal. Real New Mexican food has its merits (chile) and it can really grow on you, but it's very basic, a little monotonous, and not particularly fresh or refined. That's not a failure of cookery -- it IS the cookery. Maybe it's time for a NM food revolution, but I don't think it's here yet or will be soon. People here love, love, love the gloopy, chile-blanketed stuff they grew up with and get really mad when it's tweaked by newcomers, even just by using better quality ingredients. I guess that's how people are about their local cuisines everywhere.
PS: A couple of years ago, another poster wrote several interesting threads about his disappointment with the state's local cuisine restaurants. He had the same feeling as you, that a lot of places are getting over by masking substandard ingredients with red, green and "cheez". Here's one of his posts: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/785448 . My reply somewhere down the thread is kind of long, but I think it relates to some of the things you're talking about.
Thanks for your thoughts, ninrn. I remember the thread you referenced--it was one of the sources I consulted when I was researching the food scene prior to moving here. I was about to respond to your comments above by saying something to the effect of, "so you're saying that the essence of NM cuisine is poor quality and execution?" A little snarky, perhaps. Then I read your comments on the other thread and realized that, in a way, that's exactly what you were saying (I'm referencing your comments on "Canned stuff, commercial lard, white flour tortillas and government cheese"). While I think that's a fair point, I find it difficult to accept that these things are the "essence" of the cuisine. Most of these dishes probably existed, at least in some form, prior to the advent of these things.
For example, I love the green chilli at Tesuque Market. What distinguishes it from others I've had? As far as I can tell its simply that 1) they use fresh, locally grown, freshly roasted chilli from the local market (or frozen in the winter, but never canned) and 2) it's well made using good techniques and no fillers, so it doesn't taste dull and flat. It's fresh, sharp, complex and delicious. I simply don't see how it violates the soul or essence of NM cookery to make the chilli from freshly roasted local chilli rather than with canned chilli from Hatch.
You say, "it's very basic, a little monotonous, and not particularly fresh or refined." I agree with all of those except the 'fresh.' If I can make my chicken tamales with Tyson's frozen from Costco, and they'll be bland, dry and pointless or I can make them with a locally raised heritage breed of chicken that has incredible moistness and flavor on its own and will elevate rather than drag down the final product, how does it violate the spirit of NM food to do the latter?
I'm not asking to change the face of NM food. I don't have a problem with things being blanketed in chilli, per se (that comment was intended to refer to the chilli blanket as a tourist trap, not to dismiss chilli blankets entirely): I just want that chilli to be done WELL (especially since sometimes it seems it's the majority of what I'm eating). I just want decent ingredients and decent execution; I want the NM dishes that exist and are served to be the best versions of themselves that they can possibly be. When I go to El Parasol, for example and get a delicious, well seasoned, moist and spicy green chilli vegetarian tamale, and then I go someplace else and get a bland tamale with dried-out masa and meat that tastes like sawdust, I just have to wonder what they're doing, and whether they're not simply serving crappy food because they can--because if they put enough chilli on it and call it, "new mexican"--some tourist WILL buy it.
Anyhow, not trying to start a war here. Just airing some frustrations and thoughts.
No war. Totally agree with you. (Would also like to place an order for the heritage breed chicken tamales). I guess what I was saying is that I think people tend to be as attached to the junky parts of their local cuisines as to the superb parts, and that's where it gets hard for restaurants here to make certain changes.
"What then, in your view, does make a NM restaurant?"
Fair question, and I suppose at some point it's going to boil down to a very fine (and debatably located) line. The stuff beyond argument is all the canonical regional dishes: enchiladas, carne adovada, sopaipillas, huevos rancheros, posole, etc., served with the local style(s) of red and green chile. And there are the dishes that have been appropriated from elsewhere and customized over time; the classic example would be a green chile cheeseburger. But I agree with your point that it doesn't and shouldn't stop there, and there must be some room for continued appropriation; personally I think Pizza Centro's cheese pizza topped with diced green chile has absolutely become a quintessential expression of modern NM cooking.
Not like I have any hard and fast equation, but for me I guess it comes down to the ratio of NM ingredients and techniques to those from elsewhere. For my money, Cafe Pasqual's ratios make it less of a NM restaurant with global accents and more of a global restaurant with NM accents. An example would be their baked brie dusted with chile; I really enjoy this, but when I eat it, my brain thinks "French". If you look at their menu, many of the dishes are expressly described as from elsewhere, be it "Vietnamese flash-seared scallops", a lamb burger with Greek yogurt mint sauce, or "Yucatan style" cochinita pibil, Sure, you can find green chile on the menu (seemingly more on the lunch menu than dinner), but to me the menu reads like it has a firmly international focus despite those few clear-cut NM accents.
A totally valid counterargument is "If it's delicious, then who cares?", in fact at the end of the day this is my argument both when I dine out and when I cook at home. But I would say that if someone specifically asked me for a NM style restaurant rec, Pasqual's wouldn't leap to mind.
As for places that do a good job with canonical NM other than La Choza on a good day, again to me it seems *really* variable by dish. Carne Adovada is great at La Choza/the Shed when they're on. My breakfast burrito with bacon and green chile is always from Plaza Cafe Southside, and my wife swears by their huevos rancheros with green sauce. The only truly excellent chiles rellenos I've had were down at Mary & Tito's in ABQ, where the green chile was just a large pile of diced green chile, barely turned into a sauce, leaving you to be able to taste the expertly light frying.
I actually tried to start a thread a few years ago about favorite restaurants for individual NM dishes, but it never really took off. Maybe it's time to try again...
If you want local (i.e., northern New Mexican), try Joe's on Rodeo. The owner is known to be the biggest buyer at the local Farmers' Market. Harry's, Counter Culture & Fieldgood's (others have mentioned them) are also known by Farmers' Market vendors. Downtown, Dinner for Two, also buys local and cooks seasonal.